Germany has taken a sensible decision to phase out its nuclear power plants by 2022. It’s a pity that it also does not do so for its other two ‘green’ technologies—wind turbine and solar cell. For use as electricity generators, all three technologies are uneconomic and require tax-payer subsidies. One by one, most of the present nuclear countries will probably follow Germany’s lead and phase-out nuclear power in the coming years.
In the case of the latter two technologies, they are so new that their ongoing maintenance and replacement costs are completely unknown. In the case of nuclear power plants, so long as they are not sited on earthquake- or tsunami-prone sites, their maintenance costs are now largely known. However, the future costs of de-commissioning their infrastructures and the safe storage of highly radioactive byproducts of long half-lives are also completely unknown. The costs are likely to be gigantic when borne by our descendant taxpayers for hundreds of years to come.
On the other hand, recent developments in fracking technologies and the delineation of massive shale-rock basins in many parts of the world mean that natural gas supplies will be sufficient to power all the countries of the world for at least a few centuries. This will particularly be the case as world population declines substantially from about 2020 onwards. On the basis of the present decline of family size in the advanced countries, future world population could be very small indeed and natural gas supplies could be spread over many more centuries, perhaps even a millennium or two. This will give our descendants plenty of time in which to develop future solar-bacterial technologies which will give us truly renewable energy.
It won’t be plain-sailing from now onwards, of course. Human nature being what it is, we’ll probably still have 20 or 30 wars going on in the world every year, as now. Nationalistic wars, wars over water supplies, religious wars, ethnic wars—even just accidental wars—will continue if we are halfway realistic about the nature of our deeply-embedded genes. Wars will only largely die down when all cultures become sufficiently scientifically literate to be able to develop weapons that will guarantee mutual destruction if used. Potential combatants will come to their senses just as the Soviet Union and America did during the Cold War because of the thousands of nuclear-tipped ballistics they had produced.
There still remains one potentially large problem. This is global warming. Is it just a blip or will carbon dioxide — if indeed it’s the cause of it—continue to accumulate in the atmosphere? In view of the fact that the Intergovernmental Panel of Climate Change (IPCC) has persistently and grossly exaggerated the effects of global warming for the past 30 years, and that it still cannot produce a hypothesis that can also explain the Middle Age Warm Period, or the subsequent Little Ice Age, and that total world fossil fuel burning is likely to stabilize or even decline from about 2020, we can afford to be a little sceptical for a few years longer about the economic gravity of a few centimetres rise in sea levels. There is still a lot of scientific research to be done yet on many other powerful agents of climate change.
Meanwhile congratulations are to be paid to Germany, even though its decision was taken as a result of the Fukushima panic rather than economics. In future years, when the true economic costs of nuclear power become more transparent in the wider world, all Germans—instead of about half of them at present—will be even more thankful that the present decision has been taken.